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Sunday, May 19, 2024

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The new Ontario budget meant little for those struggling to survive on social assistance

masked man and woman in wheelchair next a banner reading "End homelessness — double ODSP and OW benefits now!"
Today, a single adult can receive a maximum of $1,228 per month in core ODSP funding. (POOF Protecting ODSP OW Funding/Facebook)

In Thursday’s budget, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government earmarked funding for annual inflation adjustments to the core housing and basic-needs allowances for recipients of the Ontario Disability Support Program, as well as to the maximum monthly payment for recipients of the Assistance for Children With Severe Disabilities Program.

The total cost comes to $1.4 billion over three years and is intended to last until the next election. The government, represented on this file by Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Merrilee Fullerton, has also followed up on its commitment to introduce a regulatory change indexing ODSP to inflation.

Though these increases fulfill promises made in the 2022 election campaign, they will do little to quiet advocates who say Ontario’s social-assistance programs are insufficient. Some critics have termed the program “legislated poverty” and called for ODSP rates to be doubled as a start toward making the program livable in the midst of the worst affordability crisis in decades.

Today, a single adult can receive a maximum of $1,228 per month in core ODSP funding. That’s intended to cover all living expenses — including shelter. Because the program is strictly gated by financial need as well as by disability, ODSP payments are the primary means of support for most recipients and their dependents (including spouses). As of January 2023, nearly half a million Ontarians, including dependents, are ODSP beneficiaries.

The ACSD program, which is separate from ODSP, is accessible to qualifying families that make less than $72,840 per year. According to information from the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services, 31,706 children receive some amount of funding through the program.

Last year, the PC government followed up on an election promise to raise ODSP funding by 5 per cent. However, some ODSP recipients were dismayed to discover that the rate increase added up to less than they expected. That’s because, for many, the increase was applied only to the basic-needs portion of their cheque. The maximum basic-needs allowance for a single adult jumped from $672 to $706 each month, but there was no increase in the housing-allowance portion of the cheque for those whose housing costs were lower than the maximum: $497 before the 5 per cent hike, or $522 after. There was also no increase to top-ups such as the $40 per month extra food allowance for pregnant or breastfeeding parents.

ODSP reform is a long-simmering issue in Ontario, and it appeared in the platform of every major party in the last election. The PCs have made several changes to the program since taking power in 2018. In the fall economic update, the government increased the amount that an ODSP recipient can receive from work before their wages are garnished by the program: the rise from $200 to $1,000 per month went into effect this spring, though some advocates say it won’t help most recipients. There is no supplementary provision for recipients who aren’t able to work at all.

In the process of raising the clawback amount, the government also raised the rate at which clawbacks on eligible wages will occur, from $0.50 of every dollar over the limit to $0.75. If someone on ODSP makes $100 in net earnings over the limit, for example, their monthly ODSP payment will be less by $75.00. (A $100 Work-Related Benefit may be applied, meaning the person might get some of their income back.)

Spouses of ODSP recipients can make $200 per month before triggering clawbacks. Using the formula on the ministry website, if a spouse makes $1,200 in after-tax income per month, the first $200 and 50 per cent of the additional $1,000 are considered exempt income. Three-quarters of the remaining $500, or $375, will be deducted from the recipient’s cheque.

In this budget, as in all its previous changes to social assistance, the government did not introduce any new funding for the province’s nearly 400,000 Ontario Works beneficiaries. Ontario Works is social assistance for those who are not disabled but cannot work. The program provides a maximum of $733 per month for a single adult, an amount that has not changed since 2018, when the current government halved planned increases .

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust and Goldie Feldman in Memoriam.

Kat Eschner
Kat Eschner
Kat Eschner is TVO.org's Affordability Reporter.
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